I remember the conversation vividly. I had just told a Senior Developer in Portugal that he had an error in his billing script and we were missing out on money. I had been at this company for less than a month, a software company. Though I had been working in data and accounting-ish type work for 13 years with my last job in Oil & Gas, I was now working with the big boys – a publicly traded software company full of developers and software professionals.
Gaspar stared at me through Microsoft Teams, rubbed his thick neatly cut beard, and furrowed his heavy brows as I walked him through the logic. While I was excited to be finding ways to improve our bottom line so early, I worried a significant amount about what he thought. Making the scripts that pulled out billable accounts was only one of many things Gaspar did in code. He had graduated with a degree in computer science and had close to 10 years under his belt writing software. How would he handle my criticism? Would this be like my last job – would he resent my correction, even though I tried extra hard to be gentle? Would he brush it off, letting his ego get in the way. It wasn’t a significant amount of money – so who cares, right? I mean, it’s not his money.
Gaspar listened intently as I walked him through the logic, breaking it down from the contract and timing and SQL. When I finished, he said “Ok, that’s definitely a bug.”
Over the next few months, I proceeded to poke a bunch of tiny holes in the script he had put together – pointing out errors that by themselves meant little, but over time added up. Each time I spoke to Gaspar about it, he responded humbly – encouraging me to find these things. We soon began to share insights into how to do our job better – I would share with him insights on how to make better SQL queries (i.e. the code needed to make data make sense), and he would teach me insights on everything else – from how the company worked to understanding all of the other computer languages.
I’m not sure if you have ever worked with people who didn’t want your input, and didn’t want to take corrections or suggestions. Have you heard them? Phrases like – “You don’t have to talk down to me! I know what I’m doing,” or “We don’t need your help.” Sometimes these dismissals are guised in the false superiority that comes with a degree, a title, or experience. “What does he know, I went to school and have a PhD.”
Have you ever heard of logical fallacies? These are a list of common arguments people make that are illogical, and are designed to shut down healthy and logical discussions. One of those is “An Appeal to Authority” – which basically means, your opinion isn’t as important because this person has a degree, title, or experience and you don’t have those. There’s definitely a balance here – but trusting the “experts” blindly is as dangerous as not asking their opinion. What I most often find is that people who say things like this don’t think highly enough of themselves. Their poor opinion of who they are as a person means they look to something external – like a title – to make themselves feel better. Since they don’t think highly of themselves, they can’t think highly of you.
At this point, you are probably thinking, “So, R.L., how does this all tie in with authenticity?” I’m glad you asked. I wrote an article a while ago about Authenticity – and I pointed out that humility is a crucial key to authenticity. I would define humility as knowing completely who and what you are, and are not. It is only by knowing who you are – with all your flaws and all your good qualities, that you can appreciate other’s strengths and weaknesses. Authenticity is the ability to be real – and that takes the courage that comes from humility.
So if you find yourself being the person who looks down on those who you see as less than you, maybe take a second and hear them out. Then go farther – look for the good in them. Then go look for the good in yourself. You have it, and I guarantee it’s a whole lot more than what other people have said about you. You have value.
I know for me, I want all of my life to be radically good, and I want every team to achieve at the highest level we can. To do so, I know we need humility, and it looks like the following
- Me owning my mistakes and the mistakes of my team
- Open to take correction
- Willingness to share our experience and thoughts
- The bold courage to do what is right, no matter the cost
- Looking for the value in every player
- Understanding my worth, so I can see the worth in others.
Thank you all, be on the lookout for some cool upcoming posts and podcasts. I love you all!